Friday, July 29, 2011

Jogging Meditation: Awareness

Friday evenings have become my time for jogging and meditation. I enjoyed another 5K run tonight while listening to a podcast by Tara Brach, a leading Buddhist teacher. Last time I posted on jogging, I wrote about my fear of pain being the primary obstacle to jogging. Tonight I practiced a mindful awareness of my bodily sensations instead of fearing or avoiding them.

Though it may seem counterintuitive, especially to an avoidant type like myself, the simple act of acknowledging what is and naming it reduces its power over us and often causes an immediate change. Instead of being overwhelmed with unpleasant sensation, I become a detached observer noticing specific sensations. And once I notice them, it often allows me to make small changes that bring relief.

Tonight I spent the last mile observing and naming my sensations: My right knee hurts, my stomach is in a knot, my head is hot, my breathing is shallow, my spine is compressed. In each case, I found that I could ease my suffering. I realized for the first time that I was turning my right foot out a bit, causing knee pain, so I turned it in. When I ran more erect, the knot in my stomach uncoiled and the pressure on my spine was relieved. When I focused on my breathing, it deepened and my head felt less hot. This was an important practice that reminded me experiencially of the value of awareness and investigation of what is rather than avoiding what is unpleasant.

These Friday night jogs at the park have become a spiritually renewing discipline for me, giving me a reflective space to evaluate how I am living my values and to practice them with greater intention.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Four-Fold Franciscan Blessing

I saw this at Beck's Experimental Theology blog and thought it worth sharing:

May God bless you with a restless discomfort about easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships, so that you may seek truth boldly and love deep within your heart.

May God bless you with holy anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may tirelessly work for justice, freedom, and peace among all people.

May God bless you with the gift of tears to shed with those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, or the loss of all that they cherish, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and transform their pain into joy.

May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you really can make a difference in this world, so that you are able, with God's grace, to do what others claim cannot be done.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Jogging meditation

In my efforts to be healthier, I've engaged in a variety of exercises: jogging, yoga, biking, kickboxing, zumba, and strength training. By far, the most challenging has been jogging. My body rebels: my knees ache, my lungs burn, my breath is shallow, my legs feel like lead.

I seem an unlikely candidate to run a 5K race. I was not born to run. I am slow. I am nonathletic. In fact, my only B in college came from a PE class! However, when motivated to achieve a goal I become resolute. I typically rise to challenges. My pride pushes me through difficult challenges, just so I can say, "I did it." Long term, though, what will keep me jogging is enjoying and desiring it. And surprisingly, I am beginning to do just that.

The key for me seems to be my frame of mind. When I begin to jog, my mind frantically yells, "You can't do this, you'll feel miserable in just a few minutes. You better walk instead." I fear the feeling of being unable to go on. Of being miserable. One day I decided to talk back to my mind in a modified Deepak Chopra sort of way. I said "I am capable of more than I have tried or dared to dream. Be open to jogging 3 miles." That simple thought allowed me to calm down and jog without so much fear of what might face me a few minutes down the trail. I also had another thought thought while jogging. "I'm going to be open to what I might learn while jogging." My jog through the park has become a time of awareness of and connection with myself and with the world around me. I have begun listening to lectures on yoga and Buddhism while jogging. This has given me the opportunity to ponder and practice some valuable concepts on my run. I have become more appreciative of my body by contemplating the way every cell works to allow me to
run. My feeling and expression of gratitude allows me to work with rather than against my body. I jog to see what my body wants to do on the trail. Towards the end of my run last night, I wanted to slow and walk, but my momentum and quick heart beat propelled me on and I realized it was actually easier to continue jogging.

Jogging at the park is still not easy for me but it is becoming a time of spiritual growth and renewal, a pause in a busy work week which allows me to reconnect with myself and my values. Friday night I sat on a bench by a pond after jogging, appreciating the breeze on my sweaty face and relaxing into the calm summer evening that was fading into night. I was content in that moment as well as pleased to have finally jogged 5k for the first time. I don't think it will be the last.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Healthier Habits

Right now I’m on my way home from a trip to St. Louis, a preplanned time to visit with family and let the boys experience Six Flags for the first time. Last week we made an unplanned visit up to St. Louis to attend the funeral of my brother-in-law, the husband of my husband’s sister. His wasn't in the best of health, though we weren’t expecting the heart attack that led to his death. His passing has made me more reflective about my own lifestyle and inherited propensities for illness. Heart disease and cancer both run in my family and I’ve already had two precancerous spots removed from my skin. This past year I’ve allowed increased work and increased blogging(!)to interfere with pretty good eating and exercise habits.

In addition to my brother-in-law’s death, I’ve been inspired by D’Ma’s post on the couch-to-5K program she’s begun. While I’m taking on the 5K challenge myself, I’m also returning to the activities I really enjoy the most: yoga and biking. I’ve also resumed strength training. My body is most fit when I incorporate a variety of exercises. I’ve joined my husband in entering calories into MyFitnessPal (there’s an app for that!). The great (and dreadful) thing about it is the ability to add friends who can see whether you’ve entered your caloric intake and exercise into the program. Accountability is terrific and intimidating. I’m not only interested in reducing calories, I also want to choose foods that will decrease my risk of cancer and heart disease. MyFitnessPal provides a summary of the nutritional content of the food I enter, so that assists me in food selection. I’ve used other programs, but I’ve found this one to be the easiest and most useful.